Donna Summer’s Never-Before-Published 1989 Letter to ‘ACT UP’ Asking for Forgiveness


POZ's Peter Staley looks back at Donna Summer's attempt to mend her divide with the gay community six years after the Village Voice published anti-gay remarks she had reportedly made, calling AIDS "a punishment from God".

Staley writes: Summer2

"As some in the community continued to embrace her, others grew angrier at her hedged denials (words like "misunderstanding" were used), and the issue continued to percolate…By 1989, various ACT UP chapters started protesting at Donna Summer appearances…To everyone's surprise, Donna Summer wrote a letter to ACT UP New York attempting to mend the divide. A few quotes from the letter were reported at the time, and appeared often in recent online obituaries, but the letter itself has never been seen publicly…I don't think ACT UP kept up their demonstrations after she sent it, but that probably had more to do with our priorities at the time, rather than this strange letter. Note to PR agents: when you apologize to the gays, it's probably not best to quote at length from the bible (even though it's a lovely quote)."

Read the second part of the letter and a text transcript HERE.

And in related news, this is a still of Staley (along with the trailer) from How to Survive a Plague, being handled with gloves by police officers afraid of being infected with the HIV virus at an ACT UP demonstration.


  1. Danny in the East Village says

    It was certainly reported at the time that when she got religion, she (like so many numb-skull religionists) said AIDS was a punishment from God.

  2. Seattle Mike says

    That’s a hilarious misquote from the Bible. It actually says “If I have a faith that can move mountains…” but DS writes “If I have a face that can move mountains…” I wonder if that’s like a face that can stop a clock. :-)

  3. Rick says

    That letter honestly sounds to me like a lengthy version of “Hate the sin, love the sinner” that Fundamentalists throw at us.

    Look, I grew up in the disco era and Donna Summer was a great gift to us all, musically, lubricating every Friday and Saturday night like noone else could.

    So I would love to believe she was not homophobic.

    But this letter does not convince me of that; in fact, it kind of reinforces the idea that she was, although she realized that she hurt people by being so and felt bad about that.

    Whatever. Maybe she was just too deeply indoctrinated by her Baptist minister of a father and the rest of her family to change….and she was, after all, part of a generation for which homophobia was entirely the norm and people who were not homophobic were the rare exceptions rather than the rule.

    So perhaps this was the best she could do and as far as she felt she could go, all things considered.

    In another place and time, things might have been different…..

  4. Joe in CT says

    To Rick’s thoughtful perspective, I would add that it’s entirely possible and politically acceptable to love the art, but not the artist. That’s how I felt at the time about Donna.

  5. Truth says

    Oh but MRJ, it does matter now.

    The people in her life who now will push the sales of her re-released disco hits from way back when want the gays to support her, who else would be willing to buy her crap. And btw, she was a homophobe!

  6. says

    She has died. Why dissect messages and quotes from years ago? She gave the world great music to boogie down to. Leave it at that. She was a sweet lady. No one is required and we have no authority to demand that ANYONE approve of us gay guys and our lifestyle. So who cares. Straight people’s sex grosses me out, but that doesn’t mean I hate straight people.

  7. JimmyD says

    Ah… so human… I wonder how many of the negative posters here have ever said anything that was mis-quoted or taken out of context. I wonder how many ever took the time to set the record straight. My guess is very few.
    For some, a letter like this means, “Too little too late.” or “It’s not enough.”
    Sad, really.

    Thank you, Donna.
    Shame on you, ACT UP. ACT UP SHOULD HAVE made this letter public back in 1989.

  8. Jason says

    Typical queens defending a black diva who didn’t do anything for you. She was black, she was a female singer, and all the old gays loved her even though she didn’t love you. Why couldn’t you old queens have loved masculine manly singers in the 1970s? Why did you kick up your heels for this woman and then pretend to ignore that she, like all women and blacks, doesn’t actually support you? Stupid liberal queens.

  9. Jim says

    It seems like a lovely letter to me. I see this comments from people getting mad at religious people who believe homosexuality is a sin. But if they take the “hate the sin, love the sinner” approach that someone here mentions, isn’t that their right? No matter what gains are made, there will always be people who believe homosexuality is wrong. And, well…okay. Fine by me. Having that belief doesn’t hurt anyone. Acting on that belief to prevent measures of equality–that’s the problem. So maybe Donna Summer loved the gay people in her life but still thought they were sinners. So what if she did? That was her right.

  10. Jack says

    It’s a good letter. It’s understandable that we, as a people, are sensitive, to say the least, but forgiveness and letting go are the future for us.

  11. Lucas says


    your whole argument stands on the false notion that being gay or acting on anything gay IS a sin. You state “Having that belief doesn’t hurt anyone”. Are you kidding me, Jim!

    Let me guess you’re an old gay with an “old-school” mindset that doesn’t care if they are treated like second-class citizens, right! Hostile anti-gay violence (mostly committed because the “bible” told them being gay was wrong) continues because of submissive gays like you who refuse to demand equality!

  12. fred says

    Why have I never come across any original source material to support the claim that Summer made homophobic statements? There’s nothing on Youtube. There’s no audio anywhere that anyone’s published. There’s nothing in writing attributable to her to prove the various claims about anti-gay diatribes, yet so many people take it on faith that she made statements. Where’s the proof?

    If no proof, I would say, let it drop.

    Even if there is proof, while her denial would not be a true apology, it’s more than we’ve gotten from others. So, even so, let it drop.

  13. alguien says


    exactly. i have yet to EVER hear a first hand account of summer saying that AIDS was god’s punishment. one would think, after all these years, there would be somebody who’d actually witnessed her saying that coming forward. but, to date, not a single one.

  14. says

    I forgive Donna Summer, but I won’t go along with these hysterical attempts to whitewash what she said in ignorance off the record. Here are the details of her 1983 condemnation of Gay people:

    However, in later years Ms. Summer did much work for AIDS charities. I’d like to believe she repented of her Bible bigotry; the evidence would certainly lead one to that conclusion. But we’ll never know.

  15. jakeinlove says

    Ignorance is human and an apology for it should have been honestly accepted. There was more wasted energy trying to ostracize Donna than you ever should have spent time on. You probably made more of an unconcerned citizen than an ally the way she was treated – it was extremely cruel at times.

    Ignorance happen(s) on both sides. For some gays to actually take offense at the use of bible verses while in the same breath advising that preachers translate and use the bible in ways it was never intended is just as ignorant and unexpectedly hurtful. You’re basically saying you can’t believe in God or the bible and be gay. What a sad angry little world you must live i.

    Just the same way she kept her cancer a private issue, she kept many of her charity efforts low key and out of the spotlight – that was her way. Unfortunately we’ve become a society that ignores quiet grace but applauds grand staged press conferences.

    Jason, Donna has done more for AIDS and charities in general that you’ve probably ever done. For someone who is, I’m assuming, actually wanting equal rights for the GLBTQ community, your obvious prejudice is the same reason why we remain fighting for our rights to this day.

    Even the link that Stuffed Animal recommends is full of inadequacies because it’s mainly all hearsay. The “Adam & Eve” remark was a not-so-wise attempt to make a joke in reference to the song “Woman” that she was introducing. It was a song for women and although she was trying to acknowledge the gay men in her audience she was trying to say this particular song was for the women in her audience not the guys. The remainder of the alleged comments were attributed to her extremely out of context, but just like prosecution in most legal cases, a substantial case again the defendant must be made – sometimes consequential evidence just to see what sticks. In the world of hear-say usually it all sticks.

    Anywho this is still all 20 years ago and I think over her lifetime her actions spoke louder than words that she said or those attributed to her.

    I for one know that Donna wasn’t a homophobic person but was not going to apologize for her faith either.

    I will forever miss the singer as well as the human.

  16. says

    There’s one line in the letter that I think is key. She says, ‘I did not say that god is punishing gays with aids.’ There. That is a flat out denial. And lacking any proof that she did say those things, I’m willing to accept the denial. Case closed as far as I’m concerned.
    The problem is that in the backwater NW they only play her second tier hits, Bad Girls and Macarther Park. Please. No On The Radio, Try Me, Dim All The Lights, or Sunset People. This is the real issue.

  17. wopboptorledo says

    You guys this was obviously before “spell check” and the powerful PR Reps that clean up our celebs misquotes or messes of today. Even if she had said it…..FREEDOM OF SPEECH PEOPLE…THIS IS AMERICA!

  18. wopboptorledo says

    You guys this was obviously before “spell check” and the powerful PR Reps that clean up our celebs misquotes or messes of today. Even if she had said it…..FREEDOM OF SPEECH PEOPLE…THIS IS AMERICA!

  19. Derek Pearce says

    Andy for the love of god make people register to comment so trolls like Jason can be weeded out and we can have non-trolled discussions here. It’s so depressing to waste time reading flame threads from people who take the bait.

  20. candide001 says

    If it walks like an anti-gay bigot, swims like an anti-gay bigot, and quacks like an anti-gay bigot…

  21. says

    remind me again why some people choose to take issue with people like Lady Gaga who are utterly vocal and visible champions of the LGBT communities again?

  22. Randal Oulton says

    In other words, I’m sorry if what I said and believe has hurt my career at a time when it’s already starting to slide.

    Look, 50% of the letter is a quote, in order to avoid her having to say anything more. She’s not taking back what she said, or saying what she really feels to clarify it.

    Granted, she was never known as an intellectual.

  23. Randal Oulton says

    In other words, I’m sorry if what I said and believe has hurt my career at a time when it’s already starting to slide.

    Look, 50% of the letter is a quote, in order to avoid her having to say anything more. She’s not taking back what she said, or saying what she really feels to clarify it.

    Granted, she was never known as an intellectual.

  24. goodville says

    I particularly don’t get how someone (Ms. Summer) could release a song with a couple dozen orgasm sounds (“Love to Love You Baby”) and another all about hookers (“Bad Girls”), and then (allegedly?) say anything even a little bit negative about people who are homosexual — citing religious beliefs. Makes no sense. People she just didn’t think too deeply.

  25. Rick says

    For those of you saying she did not think too deeply, I might have thought the same thing, until I heard an interview with her on NPR a few years back. I was expecting a street-smart, gum-smackin’ sistuh from the ‘hood, but instead I heard an articulate, well-spoken, thoughtful, and pretty well-educated Bostonian discussing her life’s experiences.

    So she was far from being dumb, even though it is true she never went past high school…..realize that that is true of very talented entertainers with whom it is apparent by their teens that they are destined for greatness.

    As for your point, Goodville, she later tried to distance herself from those songs and refused to perform “Love to Love You Baby” ever again, citing her religious beliefs.

    So who knows? Maybe she was a bit hypocritical and only “got religion” after she had had her period of fame and fortune–when it was convenient–or maybe she genuinely was “repentant”.

    I guess we will never have a definitive answer to any of these questions.

  26. UFFDA says

    RICK- you’re saying that Summers was your own personal DIVA. Take note guys, RICK had a diva! And she was one who really did dump all over gay guys. No wonder he’s bitter about the place of divas in everyone else’s life. Now just soften up on the effeminant guys, they are after all, like KIWI, the regular gay man’s burden and we have to carry them along because they can’t be changed.

  27. XYZ says


  28. Rick says

    @UFFDA Haha! LOL. I knew that was coming from someone, sooner or later.

    Nah, she wasn’t my “diva.” I was, however, quite the disco boy, back in the day, and loved the music. Donna Summer was only the biggest star of that period, so she is kind of a symbol of it for everyone, gay, straight, male, female…..which is why there is so much interest in her.

    A lot of the disco “stars” were one-hit wonders and a lot of that music was “studio music”, which was produced by melding different tracks together so that sometimes it was hard to know exactly who or what you were listening to. But Donna was different–you always knew you were listening to her; there was no mistaking her for someone else.

    That late 70’s period was probably the most exciting time in history to be gay–the combination of the new idea of gay “liberation” and “pride” that freed us all from the shackles of the previous generations (and hundreds of other generations before it), combined with the over-the-top nightlife of the discos was very special and can never be duplicated again.

    Add to that that it was pre-AIDS and you could have as much sex as you wanted without worrying about “being safe”–and people (gay and straight) felt free to do so because we were also just on the heels of the sexual revolution of the 60’s. And of course, for me personally, it was my time of greatest physical attractiveness, being in my late teens and early 20’s, which buoyed my social life even more.

    People actually dressed up when they went out back then and many of the discos had chandeliers and were quite luxurious.

    All of those of us who lived through it will always be so nostalgic for those times–and I really feel sorry for the generations that have come after because they will never be able to experience anything like it.

  29. kevin says

    Hey can some of you divas-in-waiting read…
    SHE SAID SHE DIDN’T SAY WHAT SHE WAS ACCUSED OF SAYING…unless you got proof to the contray you should believe what she said. You know like you would want to be believed if rumors about you were passed around like tic tacs… Jeeze

    “I did not say God is punishing gays with aids, I did not sit with ill intentions in judgement over your lives. I haven’t stopped talking to my friends who are gay, nor have I ever chosen my friends by their sexual preferences.”

    See Reading is a good thing…maybe some of you really need to.

  30. Bobby says

    Jason has daddy issues, just like every “conservative” or “republican” homosexual. Jason, your daddy still hates you no matter how much you try to act like him because you still like having sex with men.

  31. Brix says

    Donna was a personal friend of mine for almost 30 years. She was not homophobic. Quite the opposite. She could not understand how some people could possibly think she said such hateful things. These mischaraterazations really hurt her. I don’t know how she stayed so calm and understanding when she was constantly asked to comment on this. I would have been very angry, but she wasn’t. She would ask me, “how can people think I fell like that?”

    My friendship with Donna spanned to long term relationships for me. She always considered me and my husband family. Invited us to dine with her and her family. When I was single, she would even try and fix me up with other guys. I know if I try and list my experiences with her that were gay-positive, some will read the list as the, “some of my best friends are” lame excuse so I will refrain.

    Donna and her family always included us in events, including her funeral (which was very very small and private).

  32. says

    I’m glad she went to be with the Lord. Now she doesn’t have to hear all this racket of; “My cousen heard from a janitor at the Village Voice who heard 3rd hand that you called us something bevause I have a lot of free time to believe rumors.”

    RIP Donna. You were a testament to your craft and to your faith

  33. Homer says

    I don’t think anybody is forcing anybody to support re-issues of Summer’s albums so why include it in the argument? I think people have enough intelligence to determine for themselves whether her music is still relevant in their lives.

    As for the letter itself, personally I felt some of it contrived but then again I have to remember that NO ONE is perfect – I can only take it for what it is – a flawed but honest attempt to explain and ask forgiveness. I don’t recommend that the LGBT community take it along the lines of how I understood it but to read more of our own humanity into it.

  34. andrew says

    “If I caused you pain”, isn’t that what all who have caused others pain say? She slapped in the face all the gay party boys who danced to her music in the discos of the 1970s and 1980s.

  35. andrew says

    “If I caused you pain”, isn’t that what all who have caused others pain say? She slapped in the face all the gay party boys who danced to her music in the discos of the 1970s and 1980s.

  36. UFFDA says

    RICK – I’m glad you had a wonderful time in the 70’s, lots of people did but it got crazy and led directly to AIDS. I was basically appalled and drew back, which probably saved my life. I thought the whole counter cultural scene of the time was stupid. It was so phony, unfulfilling and unpromising to me that I was driven towards my own genuine life and interests which paid off enormously. Being out of the mainstream was always my calling.

    So thanks, glad you enjoyed my post as I often do yours…in my way.

  37. Exxnavyman says

    wow, I can’t imagine being so perfect as to pass judgement on anyone else. By the way, you can love God, read the bible and be gay. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

  38. Jerry6 says

    Why even bring the matter up? She’s dead. Let her rest in peace. Those who love her; still will. Those who did not; still will not. It all matters not.

  39. David says

    No one has ever come forward with any real proof that Donna Summer ever made those anti-gay statements! To base something solely on some paragraph in a gossip column or what a friend of a friend told you really says a lot about an individual!

  40. Xavier says

    Im gay and I knew Donna. She was nothing but the sweetest, honest, loving and caring person I knew. All this anti gay crap is soooo false. Im sure some nasty Queen started the rumor who was probably annoying her. Maybe she snapped at him. Who friggin cares. DONNA SUMMER- Live & More quote. “This is a song I think most of you ladies will identify with… AND maybe some of you men too…. Some day he’ll come along, the man I love” Hmmmmm Doesnt sound homophobic to me! Snap out of it queens!!